Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Immigration Week Seeks to Educate, Inspire Action

An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States. Current immigration policies criminalize these individuals, and at least 2 million deportations have taken place since Obama took office in 2008. Activists across the nation are taking action to stop these detentions, deportations and the suffering they cause and to create a more just immigration system that acknowledges the humanity of undocumented immigrants. Whitman students are joining in this conversation and action by putting on a campus-wide Immigration Week from April 14- 18.

Organized and sponsored by the Whitman Events Board, this week’s series of lectures and events seeks to educate Whitman students about immigration issues and inspire them to take action. Immigration Week gives students the opportunity to understand the issue from both a national and regional perspective, from a variety of academic and professional viewpoints.

“I thought that immigration was a very important and defining issue in our region, because of all the farm workers and large immigrant populations here,” said junior Audrey Vaughan, the WEB Lectures Director and an organizer of the event. Vaughan hopes that the series of events will not only educate students about the immigration system itself, but help them understand the opportunities for them to be directly involved in the issue.

“There’s a mentality that … ‘There are all these big issues in the world, but we can’t engage with in any of them because we’re stuck in Walla Walla. Because I’m at a small liberal arts campus in the middle of nowhere, I can be removed from things,'” said Vaughan, who hopes that this event will challenge that mentality and prompt students to action.

The events included a keynote speech from Pablo Alvarado, the executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network; a screening of the film “Harvest of Empire;” a panel of regional immigration activists; a panel of Whitman alumni working in immigration and a professor teach-in at 3 p.m. in Olin 130 on Friday, April 18.

First year Miriam Zuniga, an organizer of the event, wants students to gain a more nuanced understanding of immigration.

“I want students to get that there are different aspects of immigration … we only see the bad parts. It’s not just immigrant people trying to come and take over … they’re being forced to [come] … we want to show them the [stories that] aren’t part of the mainstream, like what’s been shown on TV,” said Zuniga.

Alvarado’s keynote address touched on this very theme: the importance of telling the stories of those who are most marginalized and most vulnerable in our society.

“Change happens when people speak for themselves, when they show what they’re going through,” Alvarado said in his speech.

He told the stories of undocumented immigrants whose families have been torn apart, who have been denied education and who have endured suffering because of our failing immigration policies. Alvarado emphasized that the U.S. immigration status quo normalizes the mistreatment of undocumented immigrants. He called out the rhetoric of fear that surrounds our immigration debate and challenged the notion that some of us are more deserving of civil rights or citizenship than others.

Alvarado’s speech ended in a call to action.

“The political fight is already happening. The question is, how do we support it?” Alvarado said in conclusion.

The lecture had an impact on many of its attendees, including senior Luis Alba-Sanchez.

“I realized how far behind I am in my own personal awareness of the issues. In high school I was very anti-Dream Act … I wish I would have known all these things and thought more critically back then,” he said.

Alba-Sanchez wants to learn more and hopes to find ways to be more involved in the issues in the future.

“It was also really hard to see [these stories about immigration], because people in my family have gone through this. My mom got her citizenship when she was in third grade. Just being at this speech brought up all these memories and all those emotions,” said Alba-Sanchez.

Zuniga is also directly affected by the issue, which has inspired her to be involved with immigration activism here in Washington and in her home state of Georgia. Zuniga hopes students learn from the events and discover how they can help those working on this issue.

“There are so many other different ways that you can affect the process and … help people,” said Zuniga.

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